Sunday 17 April 2011

Tories To Sneak Through Final Blow To H&F's Children's Centres During Easter Break

Thousands of local children will be turned away after H&F
Conservatives close down Sure Start tomorrow night
So there it is on page 41 of the latest Hammersmith and Fulham Council Cabinet Papers. It's been four and a half months in preparation. There have been denials it even existed but it's finally revealed and there for all to see: a shiny big metaphorical nail that the Conservative run Council hopes to hammer into the coffin of the Borough’s Sure Start programme. They’re shutting it down in all but name.

How could this happen? Both the Prime Minister and his deputy had previously gone out of their way to assure the public that Sure Start would be safe in their hands. David Cameron (Con) told the National Childbirth Trust that “We are strongly committed to Sure Start Children’s Centres and will strengthen this service by introducing 4,200 Sure Start health visitors so all mums and dads get the support they need from birth until their child starts school.” Nick Clegg (Lib Dem) told that same charity: “My party will protect existing childcare entitlements and Sure Start.” Given such strong assurances from such powerful people you’d think it would be hard for them to go back on their words less than a year after they’d uttered them.

But they did and in a highly cynical manner too. First, and under the guise of localism, they removed the ring-fence from Council’s Sure Start budgets and merged them with other budgets. This is contrary to long standing government moves happening elsewhere in education where funding is now given directly to schools. Then, the Conservative-Lib Dem government axed the money it gives to local government. Cameron and Clegg would both have known how this combination would play out on the ground. So now we see Conservative led local authorities up and down the country shutting down the scheme that both Mr Cameron and Mr. Clegg had both promised to protect.

H&F Conservatives have long been in the vanguard of reducing public services and actually complained “the cuts don’t go far enough.” So at this point it’s worth remembering that for every £3 the government cut to Hammersmith and Fulham’s total budget our local Conservative Administration added an extra £1 cut. That left the people of this Borough facing an unprecedented £33 million of local cuts and local stealth taxes and that's just for this year alone.

If you look at the top of the panel on page numbered 759 of H&F’s budget papers you can see that our Council was allocated £9.4 million by the government as part of the new merged children’s early intervention budget. Around just under half of that is money for Sure Start. The Council’s narrative tells us “this is a new grant that is intended to give local areas the freedom and flexibility to invest in early intervention. It is pulled together from a number of old specific grants (such as Sure Start) and ABG.”

But look at the pages numbered 773 and 774 of the same budget and you’ll note that listed as "Tiers 2&3" a total of £3.4 million is removed from the local Sure Start budget which takes out most of the Sure Start funding. That’s how the Borough’s sixteen Sure Start centres are being cut to six. The rest will still get some funding but it will be vastly reduced with for example the Cathnor Park Children’s Centre budget being sliced from £455,000 per year to £50,000 a year. Most of the other centres across the Borough will have their budgets cut back to £19,000 leaving them, at best, only capable of a skeleton service. The long and short of all this is that the vast majority of the thousands of local families that currently benefit from Sure Start children's centres will be turned away.

So why does any of this matter? Well, if you care about living in a country were children grow up to have good jobs and are able to win wealth for the UK in an increasingly competitive world; where they are less likely to get involved in crime or anti-social behaviour and instead live healthy, productive lives, then early intervention through Sure Start matters. Back in the seventeenth century the Jesuits began to preach: "Give me the child till the age of seven and I will show you the man." In 1964 Granada Television began the ground breaking documentary 7Up which regularly revisits how a group of people’s lives are playing out following the start they had been given. And the latest empirical evidence shows that early, pre-school, years intervention gives our children the best possible start in life. Even Republicans supported the introduction of the similar Head Start programme in the United States and almost every developed nation has a variation of Sure Start.

Hammersmith and Fulham’s Tea Party Tories believe in a radical reduction in what the State does. That’s the ideological reason why they’re ending Sure Start for children and families in our Borough. But instead of having the guts to admit this they have dressed up these closures as “efficiency” and produced a shameful report full of dishonest ‘double-speak.’

H&F Conservatives whole approach to setting out their point of view to the public has been cowardly. They first mooted the end of Sure Start under the cover of the Christmas holidays. They then agreed to end it at a Cabinet Meeting on 7th January while saying they would carry out a “consultation.” The result of that “consultation” was never in any doubt because the Tory councillors voted through the £3.4 million budget cut on the 23rd February while they were actually still running the "consultation." It’s therefore no coincidence that this policy will finally be agreed tomorrow night during the Easter break when they hope many local people will be away.

But many parents, grandparents, carers and children will be there to hear the Conservatives justify what they’re doing. A petition will be presented, London Citizens raised it at their meeting on Thursday night and many people will come along just to demonstrate their backing for Sure Start. The meeting begins at 7.00pm in Hammersmith Town Hall but those in power have demonstrated how the campaign for children's pre-school support can successfully be concluded. Sadly, that can clearly only happen when the public removes them from office.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And remove them we will.